African-American Soldier Portraits

Right now, in the Pearce Foyer of Gorgas Library (2nd floor, Quad side), you’ll find a pretty cool exhibit:

Highlighting the collections of Rev. Wylheme Ragland of Decatur, Alabama,  A North Alabama Clergyman’s Passion for History: Preserving Black History through Words and Images features cookbooks, scrapbooks, diaries, funeral worship bulletins, letters, and photographs from the Schaudies, Banks, and Ragland families. Their generous gift illustrates the everyday lives of African Americans living and working in the post-Civil War South through a wide variety of materials that will provide unique research opportunities for students and faculty. (source)

Recently, we were able to digitize some amazing portraits from this collection — most of them featuring African-American soldiers from the WWI and WWII eras —  frames and all. They were a bit of a challenge, but it was well worth it!


If you go see the pictures on exhibit at Gorgas, you’ll find that many of them have curved glass. Our usual capture process involves lights that shine down on an item, but for these portraits, that would’ve meant a lot of light reflection.

To compensate, Jeremiah, camera guru, reconfigured the capture station to allow us to hang the portraits on the wall and shoot them straight on, so that the lighting could hit them in a different way.

See, no reflection in the glass! (Click on this image or any in this post to see it up close in Acumen.)



Of course, there’s just one problem: the frame is also reflective. We decided shine-free portraits were more important than shine-free frames, but we tried to minimize all reflection as much as possible.


However, some of the bulkier frames gave us the added challenge of casting shadows across the portrait surface, as you’ve already seen. Jeremiah was able to counteract this through tweaking the lighting setup, but sometimes it was impossible to completely get rid of the shadows.



Challenges aside, there were so many advantages to shooting these portraits — curved glass, difficult frames, and all. First of all, many of the frames added real character to the portraits they held:



The collection also provides an interesting window into photographic techniques of the day. Some of them don’t even look like photos — by design. According to Jeremiah, artists would often take a black and white photo and color it in by hand, so that it looked more like a painting.



Last but not least, these photos are a reminder that many African Americans served their country in the two World Wars, as evidenced by images like these:



To see more, visit the Schaudies-Banks-Ragland collection page online. There, you’ll find more images like this, as well as images of white servicemen and other African Americans.

And don’t forget to check out the exhibit at Gorgas Library!

Come transcribe our items!

Recently, we talked about adding your own metadata to photos through our new Acumen tagging pane. Today, the focus is on something a bit more involved but maybe even more important: transcribing handwritten documents.

Why transcribe?

  • Did you know that many young people nowadays aren’t even taught to read and write in cursive? Handwritten archival materials are more and more in danger of being unintelligible to the average person, but often they represent the most unique materials out there: personal diaries, letters, and notes from the famous, the infamous, and the unknown, detailing everything from a typical day to a major event.
  • Did you know that handwritten items in a digital repository are usually not keyword searchable? Computers need data in a form they can understand. Optical character recognition (OCR) technology can attempt to read typewritten material and translate it to a computer-readable text file, but this technology doesn’t work on handwritten materials.

The solution to both these problems is simple: we need a human to read and transcribe handwritten documents, both for others to read and for the computer to use in searching. Acumen makes this easy by providing a place for transcription when viewing any image or listening to any audio file.

How does transcription work?

Acumen's transcription pane

  1. Click the transcription icon (looks like a sheet of paper), found to the right of the main viewer window
  2. Type a transcription of the displayed image into the entry box
  3. Click on the blue ‘Add Transcript’ button

You really want me to transcribe things?

John Poor letter, circa 1863Yes, you! We know transcribing documents can be a bit intimidating. Here’s some things to consider:

  • You don’t have to be an expert
    • Don’t know what a particular word is? Transcribe it letter by letter anyway; it might be a word or abbreviation we no longer use
    • Can’t make sense of a particular word at all? Use a question mark inside brackets to represent it [?]
  • You don’t always have to start from scratch
    • Some handwritten items have already been transcribed and just need someone to check the transcript over and help with harder to read words
    • Some typed items have computer-generated transcripts that you can correct; these will include a little orange box that says ‘OCR’
  • You don’t have to do an entire item at once
    • Transcription is done on the page level, so you can do as little as a page at a time
    • In fact, if you can only do part of a page, that’s better than having no transcription at all; others can add to your work later

Does it really add anything?

Absolutely! Consider the image above, a letter from a Confederate soldier to his niece. Right now, the metadata carries a pretty good general description: John H. Poor writes his little niece, Fanny, about sleeping and eating arrangements in the army. He drew a few sketches to illustrate.

A lot of the interest is in those sketches. However, there’s also text, so having a transcript gives the drawings a context:

John H. Poor letter transcription

How about a more weighty example. This diary written by a Confederate soldier at the siege of Port Hudson is 157 pages, but without a transcript, we only have a general description of the whole: This diary discusses Civil War battles fought in 1862 and 1863, especially the Siege of Port Hudson, a Confederate fortification on the Mississippi River in southern Louisiana.

Below is a transcription of page 9:

James A. Goble diary transcription, page 9

With a transcription, we can learn so much here about what it was actually like at this siege: James Goble is tired of the war and prays for peace; they were using mounted weapons to attack Union boats; they made African Americans do their hard labor; they used “cars,” probably railroad cars, for shipping things; they could still get sugar and molasses; and Port Hudson was a bit of a ghost town by this point in the war. And all this from just one page!

Next time you’re looking at a handwritten document in Acumen, consider providing a transcription, especially if you’re already trying to make sense of that item for your own research. The integrated transcription pane allows you to share your work with others using the resources, and to make those resources more findable during a search.

Looking for a fun place to start? Check out Ashley Bond’s post on a series of love letters, just in time for Valentines Day, at the Special Collections blog Cool at Hoole.

Electronic Theses and Dissertations (ETDs) 2013-2014

Did you know the Acumen is the home for all dissertations and theses produced at the University of Alabama since 2009?

Here’s a survey of some of the interesting questions UA students asked with their research in 2013 and 2014, representing 18 different degree programs!



  • Are there similarities in the teaching styles of African Americans at church and in a regular classroom setting? (Dissertation, Curriculum and Instruction)
  • What kind of authority does the NCAA have over student athletes? (Dissertation, Educational Leadership, Policy, and Technology Studies)
  • Are teachers getting enough training in LGBT issues? (Disseration, Education)


  • What role has the heroic tenor voice part played in popular opera theater? (Dissertation, Music)
  • How has Shakespeare been appropriated by modern romance novels? (Dissertation, English)
  • In what ways did landscape painter John Everett Millais influence the Pre-Raphaelite movement? (Thesis, Art History)


  • Does positive attention from fathers influence risky teen behavior? (Thesis, Human Development and Family Studies)
  • How has racial stratification arisen in the U.S. Latino community? (Dissertation, Political Science)
  • Can reading familiar texts help students learn a foreign language more easily? (Dissertation, in Spanish, Modern Languages)

Science and Medicine

  • How is tourist activity affecting the mangrove forests of Belize’s Ambergris Caye? (Thesis, Geography)
  • Is chromium really the essential element? (Dissertation, Chemistry)
  • Does gender make any difference in child health in Tanzania? (Thesis, Anthropology)

Engineering and Technology

  • How do you make liquid rockets work better? (Thesis, Aerospace Engineering and Mechanics)
  • What will future power grids look like? (Dissertation, Electrical and Computer Engineering)
  • How can a construction company better estimate the cost of materials? (Thesis, Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering)

Want to find more student projects like this? Go to Acumen and, before you type in your search query, use the dropdown menu on the search bar to select Research.

Come tag our photos!

We’re proud to announce that Acumen now has integrated tagging functionality. But what the heck does that mean?

Let’s say you’re looking at an item in Acumen and you think: How in the world would someone interested in X find this item if the information with it doesn’t mention X

Rather than lament the incompleteness of the item description, you can instead input your own descriptive words and phrases in the tagging pane. They will be added to the record for that item — which means you can now search on those words or phrases and get that item as a result. You’ll be helping fellow researchers identify things more easily!

Tagging is generally an addition to existing data. Sometimes the person originally describing the item didn’t know exactly what or who they were looking at, or they just don’t know what you know. Where there just isn’t very much data or maybe any, tagging descriptions are even more important.

Let’s look at some examples:

What’s happening here? The information with the photo just says, View of workers constructing a building at a Woodward Iron Company site.

construction photo

If you know something about construction, you might be able to give a more specific description.

Who are these folks? Right now, all we know is that former UA President Joab Thomas is on the left.

dance photo

If you were at UA during the early 1980s — especially if you were at the Sesquicentennial Ball — you might be able to identify the others.

If you’re looking for images of the Statue of Liberty, you wouldn’t find this item because we don’t create descriptions for sheet music cover art. But you would if someone tagged it “statue of liberty.”

sheet music cover, Liberty

Ditto this illustration of the Eiffel Tower:

sheet music cover, You'll Find Old Dixieland in France

How does tagging work?

  1. Click the tag icon, found to the right of the main viewer window
  2. Type your descriptive tags into the entry box, separating tags with commas
    • Example: spring fling, streamers, dance floor
  3. Click on the blue ‘Add Tags’ button

When you’re done, the screen will look like this, with your newly added tag at the top of the pane, in blue:

example of use of tagging pane in Acumen

That tag in blue is clickable, leading you to a results page with any other items that might’ve been tagged the same way.

Tags show up in the results page in the right-hand column, as in this example.


If you want to search on a particular user tag, you can also simply type tag:[keyword] into the search box.

So next time you look at an item in Acumen and think, There’s something missing, add it as a user tag!

Fins and Flippers, magazine from a local WWII pilot training program

On this day in 1941 — four days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii — the U.S. officially went to war with Germany and Italy. It had already declared war on Japan.

On this day in 1941, a group of pilots from the U.K. was learning to fly in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, when the news came that their American colleagues would be full partners in the war effort. Andrew J. Kinney, 1st Lieutenant of the Air Corps (R. A. F.), their commanding officer, wrote these words:

America is stirring to action. You have heard, and will continue to hear, responsible statesmen of America and Britain say that victory is inevitable. They point to our vast resources, our riches, our incomparable productive abilities. But remember that they assume that every man will do not merely his duty, but his very utmost. … Victory won’t eagerly rush up and take us by the hand. We must work and fight harder than we have ever before. Nor is tomorrow the time to fight. The time to fight is now — in your training.

This message was included in the January 1942 volume of the training company magazine Fins and Flippers. Five issues are online in Acumen: Sept., Oct., and Dec. 1941, and Jan. and Feb. 1942. They contain a mix of art, humor, poetry, personal narrative, and informative writing, and include photos of the cadets and their commanders.

Fins and Flippers Feb. 1942 cover

Today, we share some sample images from this collection. They show that these students, before and after the U.S.’s declaration of war, were still students — eager to learn and maybe just as eager to make fun of the learning process.

For more items related to World War II, go to Acumen and type this in the search bar: “world war, 1939-1945″



Hidden Gem: Pictorial History of Fort Marion

Lately, we’ve been combing through Google Analytics data for our collections, and one thing it’s done is alert us to some popular items we didn’t know about, in part because they were not in particularly well-used collections.

The Durst Family Papers is a small collection of interesting but awfully random items, including an early 18th century British legal document, a handwritten knitting pattern, and a U.S. Service Flag from WWI. There are also several items pertaining to the 19th century South, like a hand-written version of the song “Dixie,” a booklet entitled “The South Did Not Fight to Hold Slaves,” and a Confederate five dollar bill.

Something that’s both Southern and pretty random is one of our more popular items: a 1925 Pictorial History of Fort Marion, a “souvenir or St. Augustine[Florida] under three flags.”

Cover, Pictorial History of Fort Marion, 1925


The booklet, written under the direction of the local historical society, contains a written history of St. Augustine and the fort, which at various times was under Spanish, British, and American control (pages 3-5). In 1924, just before this booklet was printed, it was designated a National Monument. Later, it was transferred to the National Park Service, and it is now known by its original Spanish name, Castillo de San Marcos.

The booklet also describes the fort as it stood in 1925, including the powder magazine, the “famous secret dungeon,” something called a “hot shot oven,” and even a moat (pages 5-7, 16-18).

What’s really interesting about the booklet is a section of full-color pictures, eight pages with two images on each page, to accompany the descriptions. Here are a few examples to pique your interest — click on the thumbnail to view a larger version.

You’ll find the complete booklet in Acumen.

Goodbye, Corolla, Goodbye: 1980s-1990s

In the last of our series of posts saying farewell to the UA campus yearbook, the Corolla, we look at two books you can’t find online. (Various pages were photographed just for this post.) Both of them — and all the rest — are available in the Hoole Library reading room. Unlike most Hoole resources, they are part of the reference collection, which means they are on the shelves, ready to be used without you having to request them!

The funny thing about these two volumes is how little time I spent choosing which ones to pull. I gravitated toward volumes with covers I found interesting, and what was inside turned out to be a good indication of the decade that produced them. In many ways, any yearbook would’ve been just fine: each has pictures and articles that really speak to its time. That’s why the loss of the yearbook is such a loss for the campus.


The Corolla for this year featured an embossed image of Clark Hall on the cover:


That year, the building turned 100. But the pages of the book were definitely more 1984 than 1884. For example, the late 19th century military college wouldn’t know what to do with a girl dressed as Boy George:


There was a spread on the popular movies of the day, including the conclusion of the original Star Wars trilogy, Return of the Jedi, and the second movie of Harrison Ford’s other big trilogy, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Click on the image below to see the spread up close.


And look what was mainstream enough to make it into the pages of the yearbook:


The Football team was regrouping from the Bear Bryant era, with the short tenure of coach Ray Perkins:


Apparently, the Corolla Beauties section had morphed into Corolla Favorites. The fashion, too, had morphed…and I’m not sure if it was for the better :/




The cover of this mid-nineties volume featured fingerprint whorls, announcing the theme of the book: Identity.


Topical pieces included a look at former Vice President Dan Quayle, who received mixed reviews from students when he came to campus to speak that year:


A very different campus visitor also brought controversy, less because of anything she did than because of what the campus group that invited her didn’t do: promote the show very well.


Following National Championships in 1988 and 1991, the Tide gymnastics team was hitting their stride.


Though they didn’t win the championship in 1995, they did the next year.

While the late 20th century yearbooks covered more popular culture than ever before, they still had plenty to share about the campus greek system:


But other topics were pretty new, like those new staples of the home and office, computers:


Who knew that the Supe Store had been an Apple distributor for 20 years!

Thanks for taking this stroll down memory lane with us. For over 100 years, the Corolla has been a mainstay of the University, reflecting and at times even questioning the world of the campus and beyond. It will be sorely missed, if not by the current student body, at least by future researchers.

Goodbye, Corolla, Goodbye: 1950s-1960s

Continuing our look at Corollas of the past, these two volumes from the 1950s and 1960s are both in Acumen, and they document a rapidly changing student body and new student attitudes.


With the Space Race now underway, the 1959 yearbook editors used imagery of rockets and space to anchor their introduction to the book, as well as to adorn the cover.

1959 Corolla

1959 Corolla

But closer to home, the students were still students — and the Corolla could be a little bit bolder about covering their activities:

1959 Corolla

Lest you think UA was all about football or the Greek system, there were also a lot of artistic endeavors being pursued:

1959 Corolla

But probably the most important event of the year, even if they didn’t yet know just how important, was Bear Bryant’s first year as coach:

1959 Corolla


This volume from the late 1960s found UA in the thick of a cultural revolution, reflected in the topics discussed at the Emphasis symposium…and in the protesters outside:

1968 Corolla

Depending on when the book went into print, Martin Luther King Jr. was either a force to be reckoned with or a recent martyr. Here he is as part of a collage printed in the book:

1968 Corolla

Fields like engineering were really coming to the forefront:

1968 Corolla

Unsurprisingly, sports (and color photos!) were a major part of the book:

1968 Corolla

Our concept of beauty and fashion had changed a bit, seen here in a Corolla Beauty that the 1938 girls would’ve considered scantily clad:

1968 Corolla

Finally, the student body was also undergoing a change. While African-American students were still few and far between, even five years after the Stand in the Schoolhouse Door, they were very much present, like the young man seen here (row two), a pre-med student:

1968 Corolla

In the next post, we’ll wrap up our look at the Corolla over the years with glimpses of the 1980s and 1990s.

Goodbye, Corolla, Goodbye: 1920s-1930s

The next in our series bidding farewell to the UA yearbook, Corolla, today’s post looks at volumes from the 1920s and 1930s.

Though both of these volumes are presented in digital form here, only one of them is in the digital archive (1938). A digitized version gives you quick access to the item, but there’s a unique pleasure in turning the pages of an old book.

Thirty Corollas are in the digital archive; all of them are available in print in the Hoole Library reading room.


The cover of the 1927 book features the Tiffany stained glass window that is now in the Hoole Library lobby, visible from the outside of Mary Harmon Bryant Hall:


The window once hung in Gorgas Library, where Special Collections began its life. But the window was originally given to the University in 1925, several years before Gorgas Library was built. Apparently, that window is well-traveled!

This volume features several illustrations of events from the University’s past and campus locations, including Little Round House. It looks like it’s standing there all by itself — because it is. In 1927, Gorgas Library hadn’t been built yet.


Here’s another of illustration, this one of the burning of the campus during the Civil War.


Even when the book keeps itself firmly in the present, it’s pretty different from what we’d expect today. For example, it was perfectly normal to paraphrase a quote from Shakespeare (Henry IV Part II ) in an overview of the year in football:


The blurb ends with a phrase in Latin: “Sic honor et gloria,” or “With honor and glory”!

Near the end of the book is a parody newspaper page. It’s got some content that we might consider pretty un-PC, but it shows the sense of humor of the day. For example, the top stories compare fraternity members to mental patients:


Finally, here’s a look at the Corolla staff, which by this point was as co-ed as the University:




This year saw a new fad in graphic design, one which this volume deployed a little too much:


Throughout the book, pictures are set at an angle, sometimes in collages like the above and sometimes on otherwise normal pages, like this one for the football team:


George Denny, for whom Bryant-Denny Stadium is named, is also pictured in the volume. He and William Bankhead, an Alabamian then serving as Speaker of the U.S. House, were apparently “ardent supporters” of the Tide:


Here’s one of the many pages of student photos. Some of the men had hair as meticulously styled as the women:


This volume also featured several Corolla Beauties. Up into the 1960s, a handful of female students graced the pages of the yearbook each year. In 1938, they were chosen by a film star:


Tyrone Power was a heartthrob, a leading man that often played swashbucklers, such as the title role in The Mark of Zorro.

Here’s one of the ladies chosen as a “beauty.” Check out those eyelashes!


Next week, keep an eye out for more posts saying farewell to the Corolla, featuring volumes from the ’50s and ’60s, and ’80s, and ’90s.

Goodbye, Corolla, Goodbye: 1890s-1900s

Last week, the Crimson White broke the news to campus that a longstanding publication, the school’s yearbook, is being discontinued. The decision makes sense, financially, but with the loss of the Corolla, we will cease to have an amazing ongoing record of our campus and our world.

For the next couple of weeks, we’ll be highlighting Corollas of the past. Some of these have been digitized and are online in Acumen; others have not been digitized (just photographed informally for these posts) but can be found in the reading room at Hoole Special Collections Library.


These late 19th century yearbooks were limited in technology, from our viewpoint, but that didn’t stop the staff from sharing their sense of humor. Check out the raison d’être (reason for being) in the middle of the page:


But, apparently, this image isn’t one of those funny things:


According to our resident art major, this kind of iconography on the fraternities section page was relatively normal, as wacky as eyeballs and dragons might seem to us now.

Also normal: poetry!


Lots of sports were already a part of campus life. Football was still pretty new, and the game was apparently a different animal back then. Check out the body types of these early football players:


(For reference, they’d fit in pretty well with the stars of the most recent X-Men movie: the two Professor Xs, James McAvoy and Patrick Stewart, are 5’7″ and 5’10” respectively; Magnetos Ian McKellan and Michael Fassbender are 5’11” and 6′.)

The team average here is 5’8 1/2″ at 155 lbs. (X-Men‘s Jennifer Lawrence, who is 5’9″, is the right height but on the small side, weight-wise.) They would’ve been a little taller than the general population at the time.

The current average for an NCAA Division I player is 6’1″ at 231 lbs.

We also learn that football was an uncommon enough sport that UA had to play whatever teams were available:


Finally, even back then, advertisements were an important part of yearbook sales.



The students at the turn of the century were clearly of a different social class from modern students:


But the face of the typical UA student was changing with the recent (1897) addition of women to the campus:

Corolla1902_01 Corolla1902_04 Corolla1902_03

As the image above shows, UA was also still a military school.


But even that was changing. 1902 marked the last year UA would be considered a military institution.

Though photographs were used to depict students, perhaps they were expensive enough to reproduce that the rest of the book featured drawings, including this one, playfully illustrating the track team:


Stay tuned for upcoming posts that feature volumes from the 1920s and 1930s, from the 1950s and 1960s, and from the 1980s and 1990s. You’ll see how new printing options and changing culture shifted both the look and the purpose of the college yearbook, including the Corolla.